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April 20th (420) is celebrated by two groups whose ethos — self-indulgence in one case, sublimity and self-sacrifice in the other — could not be more fundamentally opposed: potheads (“420” being a code for marijuana) and Hitlerites (April 20th being Hitler’s birthday). I am reprinting this article alongside our normal Hitler commemoration hoping to lure in a few potheads and expose them to a more wholesome alternative.
Put your bongs down people and listen to me for a few minutes. I want to explain why I think marijuana is one of the most insidious substances known to man from the point of view of long-term self-actualization.
I fell in with some stoners my first year of college. Naturally, they tried to share their vice. But it did nothing for me, and I hated smoking of any kind, so I never got into it.
Years later, though, after I had my Ph.D. and a teaching job, a friend came to visit me and asked where he could get some pot. I said, “There’s a sign down by the record store that says ‘Drug Free Zone.’ I bet you can buy some there.” So we walked to the store. I went inside and bought a Marianne Faithfull CD, and by the time I came out, he had scored some pot. We walked back to my place, and I decided to try it.
Obviously marijuana had become increasingly potent and hallucinogenic over the years, because this time it had a profound effect. We were watching an episode of Alias, and during a commercial, I had an extraordinary experience. I felt that the commercial had expanded into a whole world in which an utterly compelling drama was unfolding. I completely sympathized with our heroine’s struggle to get a whiter than white wash. Her pain was my pain. A 30-second commercial had just moved me as much as an epic drama. “I’ve got to try this again,” I thought.
I had symphony tickets the next day, so my friend and I partook some more, then had dinner at my favorite restaurant. It was the tastiest meal I’d ever had. Then we heard Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), Richard Strauss’s musical autobiography, with sections on his art, his romance and marriage, his battles with the critics, and his peaceful retirement from the world. It was the most profound musical experience I had ever had. I was completely inside the music. I lived, felt, and understood the meaning of every theme. I particularly got into the romance section, with its musical flirtation, bickering, and lovemaking. I wanted to do a whole Ring cycle on drugs.
On the way home, though, I had the same profound musical experience listening to an utterly insipid pop song on the radio. And before we got home, I wanted to get a snack, so we stopped at a convenience store, and I got a box of crusty, day-old donuts. They were every bit as delicious as the meal we had earlier.
At that point, it dawned on me why the potheads I knew seemed perfectly content to sit around in their pajamas eating Captain Crunch and watching daytime television. If Britney Spears is as profound a musical experience as Richard Strauss, why go through the trouble of appreciating Strauss? If TV commercials can be as dramatically profound as Sophocles and Shakespeare, why strain your brain? If day-old donuts and cold cereal are just as delicious as a skillful chef’s creation, why bother with cooking? If masturbation can be just as enjoyable as sex, then who needs other people? If being a slacker is just as pleasurable as accomplishing something in one’s life, why even get out of bed?
I realized that marijuana had the power to totally destroy my ability to create and grow as a human being. It has the power to turn men into sensuous, swinish philistines. It also robbed me of sleep by inducing fevered, racing thoughts at bedtime. It had completely lost its charms.
Now, I am willing to grant that your mileage may vary. I know couple of highly accomplished people who regularly smoke pot. But these are outliers. I have known far more unambitious slugs. I have also known two people who have destroyed businesses and friendships and their own dignity as human beings through pot-induced paranoia.
I also know there are legitimate medical uses of marijuana, although I would wager that 95% of medical marijuana users are just malingering stoners gaming the system.
Why are so many adults today seemingly frozen at juvenile levels of maturity and taste? The main reason is the dominance of selfish, hedonistic individualism. At the age of 14 or 16 or 18, some people decide that henceforth they are going to satisfy rather than transcend themselves. Thus they seek out only those social relations that affirm rather than challenge their initial preferences. And as long as you can pay, some capitalist will cater to you in your comfort zone. (Bad credit? No credit? No problem!) Hedonistic individualism and capitalism thus make it possible for more and more people to reach 40 or 50 or 60 with their teenage selves still intact.
Marijuana is just hedonistic individualism in herbal form. Self-actualization requires pain and struggle. Virtue is hard not easy. But why worry about that, when marijuana can make you perfectly content with whatever level of ignorance, immaturity, and bad taste that you happen to be at when you take your first hit?
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